Still stuck in South Carolina after becoming golf’s first COVID-19 case, Nick Watney is ready to go home

It’s been nearly two weeks since Nick Watney had to withdraw from the RBC Heritage.

The 39-year-old, however, is still sitting stuck in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

As the first PGA Tour golfer to have tested positive for COVID-19, Watney has had to self-isolate ever since his diagnosis — the first of now five golfers. 

Though he’s tried to keep himself busy, often FaceTiming friends and family and playing his new Xbox inside a rental condo, Watney is more than ready to hit the road for a more than 1,000 mile trek back home to Austin, Texas to see his wife and kids.

“I never thought I’d be so excited to have a 17-hour drive, but I’m just excited to get going again,” Watney told Yahoo Sports. “It’s been a very weird time of life, but I’m excited to see people and then get to play golf again.” 

Golf’s first coronavirus case

The coronavirus pandemic was always going to find a way into the “bubble” that the PGA Tour has created around the sport.

Five golfers have now tested positive, following Harris English’s positive case on Monday, as well as several caddies. Other Tour members have withdrawn from events as a precaution, too, due to their caddies, families or friends testing positive.

But when Watney’s test came back, he was stunned.

He didn’t wake up with any symptoms that morning. He had just tested negative two days prior, too. It was just his WHOOP strap that convinced him to get tested in the first place, as his respiratory data suddenly spiked overnight. Those bracelets have since been given out to every golfer and caddie competing on Tour.

After getting the call, Watney left Harbour Town instantly. Immediately, he was worried about being the reason the virus spread on Tour.

“It sucks to be the first person on the PGA Tour to get it,” Watney told Yahoo Sports. “And then, I just felt if I was to spread it — obviously it would be without knowing, unintentional to the most that it could have been, but I just didn’t want that at all. I felt like I respect those guys out there a lot. I’m friends with a lot of them, most of them. 

“If I was saying hi to somebody and gotten them sick or whatever just in a normal course of a day … I would feel awful. I would feel terrible.”

He’s spent plenty of time since racking his brain, trying to figure out where he could have picked up the coronavirus. But tracking it down, he said, is impossible. 

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

Watney said he and his caddie took plenty of precautions on the island that week, but noticed something strange. They thought the island would be dead, due to the global pandemic and sharp rise in cases in the area.

He found it to be just the opposite — more evidence that he could’ve picked up the virus anywhere.

“The island was packed,” Watney told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t know if it’s like people have been cooped up and they want to get out, or whatever the case is. I’m definitely not trying to judge people being out and about, it’s their prerogative I guess, but the island was very busy that week.”

Returning to golf 

Watney isn’t sure when he’ll jump back on Tour.

He hasn’t spent any time working on his game while in isolation, and only got three tournament rounds in since play resumed after a three-month hiatus due to the pandemic.

Getting his golf game back in time for the Workday Charity Open next week isn’t likely either, which leaves The Memorial Tournament as his next viable option for a possible return. 

Whenever he does decide that it’s time, however, Watney knows it’s going to be a real test through the end of the year. He’s fallen from No. 35 in the FedExCup standings down to No. 123 this year already, and doesn’t have a ton of time to make up that ground with the modified season that’s in place.

“It’s going to be a bit of a sprint to the finish,” Watney told Yahoo Sports. “I haven’t played that great so I’m going to be outside of the FedExCup number when I do come back. Golf-wise, it’s a bizarre time … It’s a weird time for pro golf, and all sports for that matter.”

First, though, Watney wants to go home — a journey he hopes to start making on Wednesday. 

“I really want to see my family. I’ve been gone for a few weeks now,” Watney told Yahoo Sports. “I feel like all this would be a waste if I was to go home and then get my family sick. I’m going to wait just a couple of extra days and then drive home.” 

Nick Watney was the first PGA Tour member to test positive for the coronavirus, and has been self isolating in South Carolina for nearly two weeks. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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